The excitable 22-year-old Frenchman converted his fourth match point against the 14-time Grand Slam champion.
Wearing a shocking-pink baseball cap backward, Pouille stroked a decisive forehand winner down the line and then celebrated by collapsing on the court.
After jumping up, he stuck out his tongue in the direction of his box.
“My first match on the center court against Rafa,” he said in his on-court interview. “Yeah, I could not dream better than this.”
Pouille joined fellow Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils in the quarterfinals. It’s the first time since 1947 that three Frenchmen have advanced to the elite eight in a major. The last time it happened at the US Open was 1927.
Pouille, who has played three consecutive five-set matches, advances to his second consecutive major quarterfinal.
The match ran 4 hours, 7 minutes, the longest of the tournament on Ashe. The final point total underlined the match’s extraordinary competitiveness; both men finished with 156 points.
This is the first time since 2003 that either Roger Federer or Nadal won’t be present in a US Open quarterfinal. Federer wasn’t able to play at the Open this year because he is recovering from knee surgery.
It was a difficult Grand Slam season for the 30-year-old Nadal. He lost in the first round of the Australian Open and withdrew after the second round at Roland Garros with a wrist injury that forced him to miss Wimbledon. This was, by far, his best effort at a major in 2016.